8 August 2014

Convergent Risk, Social Futurism, Wave (2)

.@WAVE_Movement. @TZMGlobal. #AntiStatism. #AntiState.

This article was published with permission and is an excerpt from a chapter of Anticipating 2025, the book

The third section in this chapter will lay out a ‘toolkit’ of policies and strategic options for a transition phase toward a Social Futurist outcome. Such a medium-term focus on transition and interim steps may give an impression that our viewpoint is reformist rather than deeply revolutionary, when in fact it should be considered revolutionary on two levels.

2.2 Upgrading the Societal Operating System

The first sense in which Social Futurism is revolutionary can be seen in its intrinsic reliance on radically transformative technologies. Wherever there is no potential for an accelerating cascade of disruptive technological innovations to sweep away old institutions, there is no potential for Social Futurism. The second way in which Social Futurism is revolutionary is related, but more specific. Our societal system is composed of any number of institutions, many of which will soon be rendered obsolete, but at the heart of the matter are the mechanisms of money creation and investment. Our society is currently organised around a need for continuous economic growth, the creation of interest-bearing debt by central banks, and the investment of that money for profit (creating what Marxists call surplus value). These mechanisms have been described in many ways, but the simple fact that they lie at the heart of how our society operates is invariably the only thing Capitalists and Marxists will agree on.

Social Futurism should be considered revolutionary because in the long term it would abolish all of these mechanisms where possible, replacing them with decentralised resource-management systems made possible by technological innovation. Although people should be free to use Capitalist systems where they personally see fit, those systems should not be imposed upon all of society when alternatives are available. This abandonment of a single societal organizational principle is revolutionary in scope, not to mention the fact that it would satisfy traditional revolutionary criticisms of Capitalist society. By altering the organizational principle at the heart of society, we would be doing nothing less than upgrading our entire societal Operating System, which is to say the framework subsidiary systems (such as corporations and governments) use to engage with society as a whole. As explained in section one this is not a matter of mere preference, or even of social justice, but of survival.

3.0 Riding the Wave of Change

You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete. 
R. Buckminster Fuller
 What does it mean to speak of revolution? Of course we can easily conjure images of violent political revolutions, and there is no denying that public rebellion is back in vogue. I personally believe that violent revolution is not something to be desired or fetishised, both because it seldom ends well or as predicted, and also because the deepest revolutions are inclusive and take time to play out. Here I am referring not to minor political revolutions so much as major paradigm shifts like the Industrial Revolution. Now, we are facing a techno-cultural shift on that scale (if not much larger), but at the same time it is likely to spark smaller social, economic, and political conflicts of the sort associated with violent revolution. We are now facing a vast wave of tremendous change which will sweep away many familiar institutions, one way or another. We must ask ourselves how best to proceed, to maximise the chances of not only surviving that wave, but riding it to a higher state of civilization.

At least two answers to that question might be suggested by the Zero State (ZS) [1] community, which is part of the wider Wave movement [2] for positive social change through technology. The ZS idea is to create a kind of alternative State which adheres to a set of ethical principles, and the first answer as to how to proceed is that Social Futurist engagement in violent situations should be governed by such principles (e.g, an imperative to do so only in self-defence).

The second answer is to focus on building new communities, new infrastructure, and new paradigms rather than attempting to fix broken systems. In short, we need to build principled networks and use them to apply the latest innovations to our highest ideals, to the benefit of as many people as possible.

In addition to holding their principles in common, such networks should attempt to be mutually supportive and implement at least some of the tools outlined below. It is critical to understand that each of these policies or strategies would only apply within any given network’s sphere of influence, and that the paramount Social Futurist principle should always be that membership or citizenship of any such sphere of influence must be entirely voluntary.

3.1 Emergent Networks for Mutual Support & Coordinated Action

Time is short. We have been aware of the problems discussed in section one for decades, and in that time two things have become apparent. The first is that traditional political systems are incapable of solving the really serious problems. Even if we were to be charitable and say that the current system would address these civilization-threatening issues if it could, then we would be forced to conclude that it simply cannot do so. My view is that there are some things beyond the power of the system to change, others it won’t change without sufficient incentive (by which time it will be too late), and finally there are some problems which are actually produced by the system as it was effectively designed to operate.

The second thing that has become clear in recent decades is that for all the posturing of law makers and ethicists, new technologies do not wait for societal consensus to enter the world. Academic commentators sometimes call for a Grand Conversation to assess new technologies and determine strategies for the future, despite the fact that humanity has never once managed to muster such a grand conversation. Now that change is happening faster than ever before (and faster all the time, as noted in observations by Ray Kurweil and other Futurists), it is highly unlikely that there will be a spontaneous public congregation to comprehensively address these issues and assert its interests over those of powerful, entrenched stakeholders. It would be possible to hold such a conversation these days thanks to the internet, but it would be extremely hard to have it presented in a way broadly seen as neutral and helpful, and nigh impossible to have its conclusions universally accepted by society.

Together these things could spell disaster, or could offer a way to solve every major problem currently before us. In order to use our remaining time most effectively, we need to abandon the idea of societal consensus, identify people with great influence who believe in positive social change through technology, and work to facilitate coordination of their efforts. Rather than trying to convince those who can never be convinced in time, or to reform institutions which cannot be reformed in time, we need to build new, alternative institutions from coordinated networks of influential stakeholders. That way, at least a subsection of society could forge ahead and make necessary changes for itself, applying the latest tools to the problems at hand and offering others the chance to participate as and when they see fit. If the new networks can indeed solve deep problems and create a zone of safety and prosperity in an otherwise dangerous and uncertain world, then people will inevitably want to participate as a matter of personal advantage.

This new system of emergent networks might be expected to include a mix of older organizational networks which already exist, and new ones which would grow with the specific intent of pursuing Social Futurist goals. The networks which exist already may be associated with companies, notable individuals, geographic or online communities, or any number of other organizational types. Our task as Social Futurists is to find the key decision makers in such communities and encourage them to help build a wider community of mutually supportive networks, which could in turn act in a coordinated manner to address societal problems.

In the case of the newer, “purpose built” networks, the idea is to build principled communities which will work to develop influence, and use that influence to implement Social Futurist policy. One such policy is to employ the principle of subsidiarity, which holds that organizational responsibility should be devolved to the lowest or most local level capable of dealing with any given situation. In other words, power should be decentralised, insofar as that does not diminish our ability to face challenges as a society.

For example, local governance issues should be handled by local rather than national-level government where possible. Similarly, there is an opportunity here for companies (particularly large technology companies) to lead by example in actively cooperating to develop alternative institutions, and educating people about these new avenues for social and political engagement.

Social Futurism takes subsidiarity to its logical conclusion, by insisting that people should have the right to govern their own affairs as they see fit, as long as by doing so they are not harming the wider community. On the other side of the coin, broader (e.g. national and transnational) levels of governance would be responsible for issues that local organizations and individuals are not capable of facing alone.

Where global governance is needed, the model should be one of cooperating global agencies focused on a specific area of expertise (e.g. the World Health Organization), rather than a single government acting in a centralised manner to handle all types of issue. In this way, decentralization of power applies even when an issue cannot be resolved on the local level.

In order to encourage the development of such a system, we advocate the establishment of communities with powers of self-governance known as VDP States, where VDP stands for ‘Virtual, Distributed, Parallel’. ‘Virtual’ refers to an online community, orthogonal to traditional geographic territories. ‘Distributed’ refers to geographic States, but ones where different parts of the community exist in different locations, as a network of enclaves. ‘Parallel’ refers to communities that exist on the established territory of a traditional State, acting as a kind of organizational counterpoint to that State’s governing bodies. Two or three of these characteristics may be found in a single VDP State (VDPS), but it is expected that most such communities would emphasise one characteristic over the others. Alternatively, a VDPS may emphasise different characteristics at different stages in its development.

Given Social Futurism’s emphasis on voluntarism, VDPS citizenship must be entirely voluntary. Indeed, the entire point of the VDPS is to broaden the range of governance models which people may voluntarily choose to engage with, whereas they are currently told that they simply have to accept a single model of governance.

As this is clearly a new and experimental approach to governance, it is to be expected that many ideas associated with it are still to be properly developed and tested. Some of these ideas may not meet our own standards of empirical review. However, to briefly anticipate some common objections it is worth noting several points. Firstly, decentralization does not imply an absence of social organization. It simply means that people can exercise more choice in how they engage with society. Secondly, yes it is true that all three of the VDP characteristics have limitations as well as strengths (e.g. difficulty of defending isolated enclaves), but that is why any given VDPS would find the mix of features that suits its purpose and context best. Thirdly, as mentioned earlier in this article, different approaches may be mixed and balanced as necessary, such as a single-location VDPS being used as a template for the later creation of a distributed network of communities. Finally, the VDPS idea is not intended to stand alone but to complement any initiatives which have the potential to maximise its value (e.g. Open Source Ecology), and these States might even be expected or encouraged to grow out of existing initiatives, initially. At this point we might reasonably ask for further details and object broadly that a call for innovative cooperation doesn’t escape the foibles of human nature, but such questions are beyond the introductory scope of this chapter.

3.2 Universal Basic Income & Land Value Tax

A minimal, “safety net” style Universal Basic Income should be established. This is as opposed to putting undue strain on the economy by introducing a basic income larger than is required to satisfy essential living requirements. Where possible, the UBI should be paid for by a combination of dismantling welfare bureaucracies, and Land Value Tax (LVT) [3]. LVT would take the place of increasing numbers of arbitrary taxes on goods, services, and assets currently being used to shore up Western economies.

LVAT (Land Value & Automation Tax) is a possible extension of traditional Land Value Tax to include a small tax on every unit of workplace automation equivalent to a single human being replaced. This extension of LVT is intended to harness the economic momentum of workplace automation, which is expected to be the principal cause of technological unemployment in coming decades, but serious problems in the effective implementation of any automation tax are foreseeable (and beyond the scope of this chapter). Any automation tax should be considerably less than the cost of hiring a human, thus causing no disincentive to automation (some would argue that any tax would disincentivize automation, but our principal goal is not to encourage automation, and as long as automation is cheaper than human labour it will win out).

Social Futurism is compatible with private property ownership and does not advocate property confiscation. Wealth redistribution is only advocated to the degree that it can be achieved through LV(A)T and UBI as described above. Where a functional equivalent of UBI exists which is proven more effective (e.g. citizen shares in Distributed Autonomous Cooperatives), then Social Futurists should favour the more effective solution as a matter of evidence-based policy.

Abolition of Fractional Reserve Banking

Fractional Reserve Banking is the process by which banks are required to hold only a fraction of their customers’ deposits in reserve, allowing the money supply to grow to a multiple of the base amount held in reserve. Through this practice, central banks may charge interest on the money they create (thereby creating a debt which can never be repaid, across society as a whole) and expose the entire economy to risk when they cannot meet high demand for withdrawals. Fractional Reserve Banking fosters potentially critical risk to the entirety of society for the benefit of only a tiny proportion of citizens, and therefore should be abolished. The alternative to Fractional Reserve Banking is Full Reserve or 100% Reserve Banking, in which all banks must hold the full amount of deposits in reserve at all times.

Full Reserve Banking is much more conservative than Fractional Reserve Banking, and would signal an end to easy credit. In turn, it would afford enough stability to see our society through a sustainable transition phase, until technological post-scarcity makes reliance on traditional banking systems and the Capitalist principle of surplus value itself unnecessary. It is true that a restriction on lending would have consequences for economic activity and that action undermining technological development across the board would not be compatible with the Social Futurist idea. We do not have the space to explore such implications here, so will have to suffice by noting that careful management of the economy would restrict innovation less than would a full economic collapse.

Responsible Trade, Post-Scarcity, & Emergent Commodities

Social Futurist policy must favour the encouragement of responsible trade and strong regulation of reckless behaviour, with an eye to making Capitalism a constructive component or engine of society rather than its blind master. To this end, it should be Social Futurist policy that all companies that wish to operate within any given community must be registered with the appropriate regulatory bodies (including ethics committees) employed by that community. Non-regulation and self-regulation by industries which are not accountable to the communities they affect is unacceptable. [4]

Social Futurists should advocate the eventual transition to non-monetary peer-to-peer resource management under post-scarcity conditions, where possible. In other words, we should seek to avoid the creation or maintenance of artificial scarcity in essential resources. A continuing place for trade even under post-scarcity conditions is acknowledged and encouraged where it reduces artificial scarcity, promotes technical innovation, and serves the needs and directives of the community. Emergent commodities (e.g. natural artificial scarcities such as unique artworks) will need a framework for responsible trade even under optimal post-scarcity conditions, so it benefits us to develop such frameworks now, in the context of contemporary Capitalism.

Human Autonomy, Privacy, & Enhancement

Social Futurism incorporates the transhumanist idea that the human condition can and should be improved through the intelligent and compassionate application of technology. We also strongly emphasise voluntarism, and in combination these things necessitate the championing of people’s rights over their own bodies and information.

It should therefore be Social Futurist policy to oppose any development by which people would lose individual sovereignty or involuntarily cede ownership of their personal information. Social Futurists must also defend the individual’s right to modify themselves by technological means, provided that the individual is a mentally competent consenting adult and the modification would not pose significant risk of harm to others.

4.0 Conclusions, & Beginnings

Humanity stands at a crossroads. We are on the verge of an era in which unprecedented promise and total catastrophe are both distinct possibilities. We face a set of interlocking risks driven by technology which have the potential to trigger global societal collapse or war. The Social Futurist vision is of a direct democratic, decentralised society in which these risks are seriously addressed by new institutions evolved from emergent mutual support networks. Technology is a powerful force in our world, but a morally neutral one, and our actions will prove pivotal in deciding whether technology can be used to solve global problems, or merely exacerbate them.

There are many attempts to move toward an improved state of affairs in the world today, some involving established public institutions. To the extent that their efforts are made in an open, cooperative, and innovative spirit then we should welcome and support them. So far, however, traditional institutions have been unable to solve the problems facing humanity, and it is time for new institutions to engage directly with the issues at hand.

[1] http://zerostate.net
[2] http://wavism.net
[3] LVT is a progressive tax on the value of land only, ignoring any developments on that land.
[4] For the purposes of this brief statement I have conflated Capitalism and markets, despite the fact that trade existed millennia before the organization of society around profit based on Capital investment.

By M. Amon Twyman - More articles by M. Amon Twyman

Reprinted from Anticipating 2025 with permission of the author

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